Every journey begins with a first step, or since we're talking soccer, a first kick.
The 2017 MLS regular quicks off on Friday night in Portland when the Timbers host expansion side Minnesota United at raucous Providence Park. Over the next eight months, each MLS club will play 34 matches before the MLS Cup Playoffs crown a new champion.
For fourteen former Reading United stars, the new season brings them to new teams, new challenges and great expectations. Which of our alums will have a breakout season? Let's check in our alums ahead of MLS First Kick.
No MLS team has more Reading United alums on the roster than the Philadelphia Union. Last season, Keegan Rosenberry had burst on the scene and exceeded all expectations. The former United captain played every minute of every match for the Union in 2016 and was named an MLS All-Star. C.J. Sapong will look to bounce back in 2017 after a disappointing finish to the 2016 season. He'll be competing for minutes at the point of the attack with new signing Jay Simpson and U.S. Men's National Team star Charlie Davies. John McCarthy will again back-up Union starting goalkeeper Andre Blake. The former United netminder could see significant action in 2017 as Blake spends time with the Jamaican National Team at the Gold Cup this summer. Ray Gaddis gives Union boss Jim Curtin a veteran presence off the bench. Gaddis' ability to play at either left back or right back means he'll score important minutes over the long season.
Former Reading United defender Ben Sweat made the move to MLS when he was signed by New York City FC in February. After spending two season's with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Sweat will help bolster NYCFC's notoriously shaky backline.
Alex Bono played a crucial role for Toronto FC in 2016. When starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin went down to injury, Bono proved he was up to the task for the Reds. The former first round pick out of Syracuse started 15 matches for TFC and recorded 8 wins in his second professional season. Look for Bono to press for more matches as the Reds again look to take the MLS Eastern Conference by storm.
United alum and Penn State star Connor Maloney was outstanding in pre-season action for the Columbus Crew and earned his first professional contract.
Out in the Western Conference, Matt Hedges will again lead FC Dallas. The former Reading star was named the 2016 MLS Defender of the Year and captained the Hoops to the 2016 U.S. Open Cup title and the Supporters' Shield. FCD are stacked with talent and will certainly challenge for every trophy again this year. Could we see Hedges lift MLS Cup come December? Don't bet against it.
Two Reading alums call Sandy, Utah home this season. Luke Mulholland is back for his fourth season with Real Salt Lake. The feisty English midfielder is a vital part of RSL's midfield and will see plenty of action in 2017. David Horst returns to Rio Tinto Stadium after spending the past three seasons as a regular starter for the Houston Dynamo. Horst, a Pine Grove, PA native, was draft by RSL in the first round of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft.
Andrew Wenger is back for another season with the Houston Dynamo. The Lititz, PA native found success with the Dynamo in 2016 following a snake bit 2015 campaign with the Union. Wenger fired home 6 goals in 2016, running his career total to 19. The former #1 overall pick will be an important piece for new head coach Wilmer Cabrera as he rebuilds the Dynamo.
In his second professional season, Fatai Alashe became the centerpiece of the San Jose Earthquakes midfield. A player on Reading's 2013 squad, Alashe scored two goals in 2016 and was rated the fourth best player under 24 years old in MLS. Alashe will assume more of a leadership role with the club in 2017 as he looks to help the Quakes reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Defender Zarek Valentin is back for his second season with the Portland Timbers after joining his former college head coach Caleb Porter in the Rose City ahead of the 2016 season. The Lancaster County native and noted Oreo cookie aficionado started 18 games for the Timbers and scored his only goal of the season against the LA Galaxy.
Colton Storm will make his MLS debut with Sporting Kansas City in 2017. The Mechanicsburg, PA native spent the 2014 and 2015 season with Reading while being a key player for college soccer powerhouse North Carolina. Storm was draft with the 14th overall pick in the 2017 SuperDraft. SKC Head Coach Peter Vermes had good things to say about his new young defender. “Colton is a player that not only possesses very good qualities in his position, but when talking to people who have worked with him in the past, it’s clear he has a very strong mentality and work ethic."
Be sure to check back here throughout the MLS season as we keep you up to date with how our former players are doing in 2017.